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Road traffic regulations

The principal traffic regulation and management powers given to traffic authorities are contained in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (RTRA 1984) and the Traffic Management Act 2004 (TMA 2004).

The principal tool of a traffic authority for regulating traffic is the traffic regulation order (‘TRO’).

The purposes for which a TRO may be made are set out in section 1 of RTRA 1984:

  • for avoiding danger to persons or other traffic using the road or any other road or for preventing the likelihood of any such danger arising;
  • for preventing damage to the road or to any building on or near the road;
  • for facilitating the passage on the road of any class of traffic (including pedestrians);
  • for preventing the use of the road by vehicular traffic of a kind which, or its use by vehicular traffic in a manner which, is unsuitable having regard to the existing character of the road or adjoining property;
  • for preserving the character of the road in a case where it is especially suitable for use by persons on horseback or on foot;
  • for preserving the amenities of the area through which the road runs;
  • for controlling and restricting vehicle movements to improve air quality.

When making a TRO the traffic authority must exercise its power in a way which secures the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of vehicular and other traffic and the provision of suitable and adequate parking facilities on and off the highway so far as practicable. The effect of the legislation is to give the traffic authority a very wide discretion.

There are also the following types of traffic orders:

  • an experimental traffic order for the purposes of carrying out an experimental scheme of traffic control;
  • a temporary order to restrict or prohibit traffic (including pedestrians) or to impose a speed limit on a road on or near which works are being, or are proposed to be, carried out; or because of the likelihood of danger to the public or of serious damage to the road from some other cause. A temporary order generally lasts for no more than 18 months in the case of a road and 6 months in the case of a footpath or bridleway, but may apply for longer if the traffic authority is satisfied that the works will take longer;
  • a stopping up order, for use where a local authority has received an application from a developer, who has obtained planning permission, to extinguish a part of the highway in order for the development to proceed. The Welsh Ministers have power under section 247 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to make stopping up orders;
  • a permanent speed limit order may be made by the Welsh Ministers under section 84 (1) of RTRA 1984 subject to consultation with the local Chief of Police;
  • a restriction on waiting made under section 1(1), 2(1), 2(2) or 4(2) of RTRA 1984;
  • a de-restriction order made to remove any restrictions made by previous orders, made under section 82(2), 83(1), 84(1) or 84(2) of RTRA 1984.

The principal way in which restrictions imposed by a TRO are conveyed to the motorist is by way of signs and road markings. Under section 65 of RTRA 1984 a traffic authority may cause traffic signs to be placed in or near a road in accordance with the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002(as amended) and in other Regulations and Directions specifically applicable to various types of pedestrian crossing.

In Wales the traffic authorities are the Welsh Ministers and local authorities. Orders made by the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers must be made in accordance with the Secretary of State’s Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1990 and orders made by local authorities must be made in accordance with the Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996.

The body empowered to make the various orders available under the 1984 Act is the ‘traffic authority’ for any particular road. The ‘traffic authority’ is defined as follows:

(i) The Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers for highways for which they are the highway authority and

(ii) The county or metropolitan district council outside Greater London

Significant functions have been transferred to the Welsh Ministers including RTRA 1984 functions with certain exceptions relating to the regulation of special roads generally (which includes the regulation of motorways generally but not specific stretches of motorway). A further exception prevents the Welsh Ministers from changing the shape of road signs save to enlarge them in accordance with language policy.

Published on
Last updated
18 June 2021